Sea of Thieves gets serious on how the game's progression system works

How exactly do players progress in Sea of Thieves? What does it mean to become a "Pirate Legend"? Is there more to do beyond the relentless pursuit of buried treasure?

Today on Mixer, Microsoft and Rare revealed the answers to some of these burning questions, with more to come as we sail towards Sea of Thieves' planned March 2018 launch window.

So far, we know that Sea of Thieves will contain quests for buried treasure, riddles to solve, and gorgeous oceans to sail, showcasing some of the best water physics ever seen in a game. In Sea of Thieves' permanently-connected world, you will encounter other players, and yes, they can kill you.

Pirate crews of up to four players will be able to sail large vessels, or go it alone in a smaller, speedier ship should they so choose. But beyond the sailing, skeleton shooting, and treasure chest hunting, what is the "goal" of Sea of Thieves?

Microsoft has been rather quiet about some of Sea of Thieves' finer nuances, and the playtest demos we've experienced at E3 and Gamescom were slimmed-down experiences, hiding some of the games' richer systems and mechanics. Finally, Rare has offered us a glimpse into how Sea of Thieves pirates will find fortune and glory in its vast oceanic world.

Becoming a Pirate Legend

Sea of Thieves' core gameplay mechanics will revolve around earning reputation with various in-game trading companies, which offer various quests and activities for players to complete either in groups, or solo.

As you complete more difficult objectives, new adventures will begin to unlock, granting various cosmetic rewards including player titles, ranks, pirate clothing, and beyond. We've spoken to Rare previously about the reward mechanics in Sea of Thieves, and it will also include things like ship customization, such as adding unique flags and sails to celebrate and represent your pirate crew.

So far, Rare has unveiled three trading companies, each with a different playstyle.

The Gold Hoarders are all about amassing huge wealth, seeking treasure for profit. These voyages focus on hunting treasure in all of its myriad forms.

The Merchant Alliance are setting up to control trade and goods in the Sea of Thieves. Merchant Alliance voyages revolve around trade, capturing wildlife or other goods, for example, and then delivering them for profit (keeping them safe from thieving players or crazy storms in the process). Fans of Elite Dangerous will probably enjoy this one.

The Order of Souls are seeking ancient, mystical artifacts, and will pay handsomely for them. These voyages are combat oriented, revolving around taking down priority targets and "bosses" to collect their souls.

Quests in Sea of Thieves are known as voyages, and they are represented in-game by physical objects, printed on parchment. Players can place their voyages on the table in their ship, so that other crew members can vote on which voyage to undertake next. The voyages themselves will look more prestigious to reflect the difficulty and "level" of the quest, moving from objectives printed on scruffy paper bound in leather, moving up to jewelled maps sealed with gold.

Regardless of a player's rank or progress with any particular trading company, all pirates will be able to vote on quests and progress together regardless of personal current standing.

Our goal has always been to allow players to play together, not putting barriers up between new and old players, but to create an experience that rewards players for the time and effort they put in.

Rare wants multiplayer to be completely seamless in Sea of Thieves, which is why the studio has included non-verbal chat functionality, in addition to voice and text-based solutions.

While your personal progression will remain separate, any rewards earned during shared quests will be achieved by everyone in the crew while playing together. You will also be able to vote on what objectives and activities to take on next, should you choose to party up. Otherwise, you can stick it out solo, if you so choose (or queue up with random players). It sounds as though all of Sea of Thieves' progression won't be stat-based or level-based, meaning you won't encounter dreadfully overpowered players like in The Division's Dark Zone or World of Warcraft open world player vs. player combat. Instead, Sea of Thieves will revolve around personal cosmetic progression, unlocking more increasingly epic quests, and skill-based combat. I'm told that Kraken from the original concept trailer is still a thing too...

We talked to Game Director Joe Neate from Rare about Sea of Thieves' progression system, and how cosmetics and quest unlocking will form the basis of play, allowing players to focus on co-operative fun over stats and grinding.

Players will earn cosmetics, allowing them to show up how they want to other players, but will also earn access to new voyages and adventures they can share with their friends. This is what we feel is special about "Sea of Thieves'" progression, and it just feels right for the experience we're creating. Our goal has always been to allow players to play together, not putting barriers up between new and old players, but to create an experience that rewards players for the time and effort they put in.

It's all coming together

For a while, Sea of Thieves remained a bit of an enigma, despite the fact I've played it for several hours at this point across various game events and shows. As we speed towards the game's March 20, 2018 planned launch date, however, it seems as though Rare is preparing a solid feature set for budding pirates on launch day. Do not take your eyes off this game.

You can pre-order Sea of Thieves now for both Xbox One and Windows 10 for $59.99.

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Jez Corden
Co-Managing Editor

Jez Corden is a Managing Editor at Windows Central, focusing primarily on all things Xbox and gaming. Jez is known for breaking exclusive news and analysis as relates to the Microsoft ecosystem while being powered by tea. Follow on Twitter @JezCorden and listen to his XB2 Podcast, all about, you guessed it, Xbox!